Compare this poem with one other from the post-1914 selection showing how imagery and language are used to convey attitudes to war.
Vernon Scannell’s ‘Route March Rest’ and Wilfred Owen’s ‘Exposure’ both use imagery of nature and the environment of the soldiers to convey the poets’ attitude to the war.
Scannell’s describes ‘B Company’ as ‘drowsy with dust and summer,’ suggesting that the heat of summer allows the soldiers to relax. However he also uses onomatopoeia on ‘purred’ and ‘drummed’ to intensify the heaviness that the soldiers are feeling. This suggests that Scannell feels that war causes natural things; the weather, to become intensified to the soldiers, suggesting that they have become more sensitive to the beauty of nature as opposed to the ugliness of war. This juxtaposition is shown through the mention of the ‘blackbird song’ alongside the metaphor of the marching soldiers as a ‘long machine.’
In Owen’s ‘Exposure,’ the use of natural imagery conveys an entirely different attitude to war. Nature is personified as an enemy causing pain; ‘the merciless iced winds that knive us,’ suggesting that nature, which should be beautiful, has been forced to play a part in this most unnatural of situations: war. The juxtaposition of nature, ‘brambles’ alongside war, ‘gunnery rumbles,’ emphasises the poet’s attitude that war is not a acceptable normal situation – it is unnatural.
Scannell closely describes a village with a ‘green,’ ‘a school,’ and a ‘church;’ things that are quintessential to a traditional English village. Scannell also describes the school as ‘silent, cool,’ which contrasts strongly with the heat from earlier in the poem. This fundamental English-ness and the use of tranquil language suggests the calm and innocence of civilians, and people not involved in the war. This conveys Scannell’s attitude that the war affects everyone, and that no one, not even ‘children, bight as buttercups,’ escapes.
Owen further enforces his opinion that war is unnatural and wrong by using a pararhyme rather than a true rhyme. This use of rhymes such as ‘dazed’ and ‘dozed,’ and ‘brambles’ and ‘rumbles,’ captures the dislocation and abnormality of war, and reinforces Owen’s attitude that war is a terrible thing. Owen also captures the tragic patriotism of the soldiers, as they ‘believe that not otherwise can…suns smile true on child;’ they believe that they have to fight in order to protect their homes and families, but now have resignedly accepted their fate – to die. This use of a resigned tone and ‘for love of God seems dying,’ suggests that Owen feels that something so natural, like faith in God, should not lead to something so unnatural, like the early death of these soldiers.
Scannell’s closing stanza perhaps best captures his attitude to war. He describes the children singing ‘all things bright and beautiful’ ‘faintly,’ which once again emphasises the innocence and fragility of the traditional ways of England, and conveys the sense that war has an effect on everyone. The use of alliteration on ‘frail,’ faintly’ and ‘fading’ intensify Scannell’s fatalistic attitude to war; that many are ‘soon to die.’
Owen creates the same poignancy as Scannell through the use of ‘we turn back to our dying.’ This action is so decisive that it becomes tragic. The soldiers feel that their only course of action is to die. The decisiveness also suggests to the reader that dying is the only positive path; that death would be better than continuing to live like this. Owen’s use of ‘to us the doors are closed,’ suggests that the doors of life are closed to the soldiers; they will never have a normal life now. This poignancy conveys Owen’s attitude that war is pointless.
Both Scannell and Owen use language and imagery of nature to convey their respective attitudes to war. Owen uses personification and pararhyme to convey the pointlessness and dislocation of war, whereas Scannell uses imagery of the quintessential English village to suggest how war affects everyone, and how it can take away the innocence and vitality of nature.